The Stern Music Teacher

When the Music Teacher Gets Serious

Recalling a time when I felt compelled to get stern with my best student: He was 14 years old. He played well for his age. He also had excellent chops on Irish fiddle tunes. But, it was clear from his playing of Handel that he had not practiced that piece with the needed intensity it deserved.

My sternness manifested in a teaching move that I have since resorted to many times. This was the first time I actually made a student practice mindfully right in front of me.

Up until that time I would counsel on how to practice and sometimes demo a certain drill. But, I regret to confess, I had not made a routine of stepping the student through the drills as I do now.

1. I made him do the 3 times drill. 2. I talked him, step by step, through the double stops practice drill of mindfully moving from one pair of notes to the next. 3. I had him listen for the pitch of a given note remaining exactly the same from one instance to the next, after few notes intervene.

That last drill is more important for fretless stringed instruments, I suppose. The other two, the 3 times repetition, and coordinating critical moves as simply and directly as possible…those apply to other instruments.

What I really don’t know is whether the stern persona is effective. I seldom adopt it.

My usual approach is supportive. If I can find anything that a student is doing well I acknowledge that first. Then, I offer tips for improvement. Finally, I say something generally supportive to put the last layer on the sandwich.

When I lead a student through a practice drill now, I maintain a cheerful, supportive attitude. The “stern music teacher” led me to a good insight. And then I asked him to step back.

Students have sometimes expressed great appreciation for this supportive attitude. They cite previous experience with a critical teacher for comparison. I have even heard violin drop outs speak of the Nazi violin teacher from childhood.

I don’t think that either the student or the teacher wants to continue that tradition.

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